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5 Ways to Fight the Back-to-School Scaries

Key Points

  • Implement a school-year sleep routine for your kids, including a real alarm clock and gradually adjusting bedtime and wakeup times. Make sure to create a relaxing environment that encourages sleep.
  • Create an engaging physical workspace for your child. For high school kids, this might include refinishing a desk or adding a new study lamp. For younger kids, involve them in designing their dream workspace.
  • Engage in meaningful conversations with your children, validating their feelings and concerns about the new school year. Show interest in their life beyond school and set realistic expectations for academic and extracurricular performance.
  • Conduct a school routine run-through before the school year starts to help your child adjust to their new schedule. This includes simulating morning routines, school bus timings, and after-school activities.
  • Arrange for your child to meet their new teacher before the school year starts, especially for elementary school children. This can help ease anxiety and familiarize them with their learning environment.

Whether your kids are in elementary or high school, you will most likely have to deal with the "back-to-school scaries," heightened this year by the continued uncertainty of COVID. As parents, you can implement some tactics to help make the beginning of the school year easier—here are five guaranteed-to-work methods to ease kids’ anxieties.

5 Ways to Fight the Back-to-School Scaries

Key Points

  • Implement a school-year sleep routine for your kids, including a real alarm clock and gradually adjusting bedtime and wakeup times. Make sure to create a relaxing environment that encourages sleep.
  • Create an engaging physical workspace for your child. For high school kids, this might include refinishing a desk or adding a new study lamp. For younger kids, involve them in designing their dream workspace.
  • Engage in meaningful conversations with your children, validating their feelings and concerns about the new school year. Show interest in their life beyond school and set realistic expectations for academic and extracurricular performance.
  • Conduct a school routine run-through before the school year starts to help your child adjust to their new schedule. This includes simulating morning routines, school bus timings, and after-school activities.
  • Arrange for your child to meet their new teacher before the school year starts, especially for elementary school children. This can help ease anxiety and familiarize them with their learning environment.

Whether your kids are in elementary or high school, you will most likely have to deal with the "back-to-school scaries," heightened this year by the continued uncertainty of COVID. As parents, you can implement some tactics to help make the beginning of the school year easier—here are five guaranteed-to-work methods to ease kids’ anxieties.

1. Start a School-Year Sleep Routine

Doctors recommend starting a sleep routine a week before your child begins the school year, but it’s never too late to start. 

Get a real alarm clock: Instead of using the alarm function on your or your teen’s smartphone, make the bedroom a no-phone zone and use a simple alarm clock. This will help kids avoid sleep-disrupting screen time before bed, and help teens take accountability for waking up on time.

Re-introduce bedtime and wakeup times: Summer schedules often include staying up late and sleeping in, which aren’t as compatible with the demands of the school year. A week before school starts, try setting a morning alarm that’s an hour later than you plan to use during the school year. Then, slowly move up the alarm time each day until it’s a good time to wake up for school. This helps kids ease into a school year schedule without feeling stressed or sleep-deprived.

The trick to setting up a routine is not to make your child feel they have to go to sleep, but that they want sleep. Make it easier for your kids by avoiding any activities during the evening children want to do. For example, don't start a marathon Monopoly game with your spouse and tell the kids to go to bed.

2. Give Them the Workspace They Want

Today.com suggests that an enticing physical workspace can engage your children, helping them ease into the school year emotionally. 

For high school kids, offer to paint or refinish their desk from last year and add some accents, such as a new study lamp or desk organizers. If you can afford to do so, buy them a gadget that will aid in their school efforts such as a laptop, tablet, or printer.

For kids in elementary school, let them help you build their ideal dream workspace. (Be sure to avoid sharp scissors or other sharp objects that may injure your child.) Helping design the workspace gives children a chance to be creative and helps them look forward to the school year.

3. Have Meaningful Conversations

Starting a new school year or transitioning from elementary school to middle school (or middle school to high school) is anxiety-inducing, even without COVID concerns. The American Psychological Association says talking with your kids is the best bet to relieve pre-school stressors.

Validate their feelings: Let your kids tell you about their fears, from getting sick to not fitting in. Then, emphasize that anxiety is normal: we all experience feelings of anxiety from time to time. Remind them that we all experience negative feelings sometimes, and that you’ll be there to help them with whatever comes up this school year. Make sure the conversation exchange goes both ways: you want to make your children feel heard, not just tell them what to do.

Take an interest in their life beyond school: Grades and homework are important, but kids need to know that you care about their physical and mental wellbeing above all. Ask your teen what their goals for the school year are, but also what they’re excited or worried about in their social life and extracurricular activities.

Set realistic expectations: Often, teens’ anxiety around back to school is caused by unrealistic expectations for academic and extracurricular performance. Let your teen know that perfection isn’t the goal, and that you love them no matter their grades or achievements.

4. School Routine Run-Through

Another way to beat the back-to-school blues is to ease children into their new schedule by running through a "routine" school day before school starts. Start with the morning, waking up at a normal school time, eating breakfast, and getting ready like they’re headed to class. Try doing this after your child has adjusted to a school-year sleep schedule (from tip #1) so they’re well-rested and ready to face the day. Talk about the amount of time they'll have each morning before heading off to the school bus so they don’t feel rushed.

This simulation exercise shows children what to expect now that school is beginning. They'll gain time management skills and be more comfortable  tackling each new school day.

You can also simulate the after-school routine of homework and extracurriculars by inviting kids to write, draw, or play games in the afternoons instead of turning on the television. Getting back in the habit of reading and writing helps kids express themselves, and they’ll feel less stressed when it’s time to pick up a pencil for schoolwork.  

5. Meet the Teacher

Teachers are often around the school prior to the start of the school year. This can be a good time, especially for elementary school children, to stop by and meet their new teacher and see where they'll be learning each day.

Anxiety about going back to school is normal, but easy for parents to address. Help your kids beat the back-to-school scaries with these five tips to start the new school year strong.

Frequently asked questions

  • What are some ways to ease children's anxieties about the new school year?

    There are several ways to ease children's anxieties about the new school year. These include starting a school-year sleep routine, creating a workspace they want, having meaningful conversations, running through a school routine, and meeting the teacher.
  • How can I help my child adjust to a school-year sleep routine?

    Doctors recommend starting a sleep routine a week before the school year begins. This can involve using a real alarm clock, re-introducing bedtime and wakeup times, and avoiding activities in the evening that children want to do. The aim is to make your child want to sleep, not feel like they have to.
  • What can make a workspace more enticing for my child?

    For high school kids, you can offer to paint or refinish their desk, add new accents like a study lamp or desk organizers, or buy them a gadget that will aid in their school efforts. For elementary school kids, you can let them help you build their ideal dream workspace.
  • How can I help my child deal with anxiety about the new school year?

    You can help your child deal with anxiety by having meaningful conversations with them. Let them express their fears, validate their feelings, take an interest in their life beyond school, and set realistic expectations.
  • What is the benefit of running through a school routine before the school year starts?

    Running through a school routine before the school year starts can help children ease into their new schedule. This simulation exercise can help them gain time management skills and feel more comfortable tackling each new school day.
  • How can I help my child adjust to their after-school routine?

    You can simulate the after-school routine of homework and extracurriculars by inviting kids to write, draw, or play games in the afternoons instead of turning on the television. This can help them get back in the habit of reading and writing, express themselves, and feel less stressed when it’s time to do schoolwork.
  • How can meeting the teacher before the school year starts help my child?

    Meeting the teacher before the school year starts can help especially elementary school children feel more comfortable. They can see where they'll be learning each day and get to know their new teacher.
  • What should I do if my child is still anxious about going back to school despite implementing these tips?

    If your child is still anxious about going back to school despite implementing these tips, it's important to validate their feelings and remind them that anxiety is normal. Continue to have open conversations with them about their fears and concerns, and reassure them that you'll be there to support them throughout the school year.
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